The ran past visiting Jericho, 56-31, on senior day Friday afternoon. In doing so, the Gladiators (11-6 overall, 8-4 in A-1 conference play) completed a remarkable turnaround from a year ago.
For seniors Ciara McCullagh, Maria Katsoulis and Alexis Peveraro, it was the last time they stepped foot on the New Hyde Park High School court as players. New Hyde Park Coach Hugh Flaherty took time to recognize the seniors before the action started.
Flaherty talked about Peveraro’s accomplishments - she is the team leader in three-pointers and foul shots. He mentioned how Katsoulis is “the heart and soul of the team,” and how “she will make an impact wherever she goes.” He also noted how McCullagh’s “mother and I always knew there was a division one player in there.”
Once the small ceremony ended and the Gladiators took to the court, it was all business. Jericho (4-12, 2-9) could not keep up.
Heroes: McCullagh has been filling up this subsection all season. She was coming off a 26 point game in New Hyde Park’s 50-47 win over Wantagh Tuesday and scored a career-high 34 points the last time the Gladiators played Jericho Jan. 14.
Her fist quarter performance indicated that she might break that record. The dominating center scored 11 of her 22 points in the opening quarter, nine of which came in the last three and a half minutes.
Turning Point: After McCullagh’s opening layup at 7:45 off a pass by speedy sophomore Gabby Tomasini and Tomasini’s jumper a minute later, the Gladiators had the luxury of an early lead. Junior Victoria Lofaro compounded it 30 seconds later with an inside bucket off Tomasini’s dish, but the Jayhawks almost caught up with a free throw and three-pointer.
At this point, McCullagh’s dominance in the paint and Tomasini’s three-pointer put New Hyde Park on a 12-0 run to end the first quarter at 18-4.
Despite possessing an already strong lead, the Gladiators furthered it in the second quarter by going on a 10-0 run between the 4:02 and 10 second marks. McCullagh contributed with four points and Tomasini, freshmen Victoria Romano and Paola Quijada each had two.
With a 20 point lead at halftime, New Hyde Park almost kicked it to 30 with a nine to nothing run to start the third. Jericho's Jill Leibowitz came alive and scored eight points for the Jayhawks, but the damage was done.
Quotable: “Last year we ended the season at 2-16,” Flaherty said, “and with the same kids, we finished at 11-6 this year.” He attributes this to McCullagh, who he said “has been stronger and more physical.”
“Maria (Katsoulis) is a terrific rebounder, Lexi (Peveraro) is doing a superb job,” he continued, “and we’re not turning the ball over as much as we had in the past.”
Of the seniors who are leaving him, Flaherty said, “It is tough to see the three kids leave,” he said. “They mean a lot to the program and I’ve known them since they were in seventh grade.”
McCullagh mentioned that the game was “a good way to end the season.” She added, "It was a good way for the younger girls to get playing time and get used to it for next season."
Bottom Line: Although Leibowitz possessed an accurate jump shot, the Jayhawks as a whole missed too many shot attempts and the rebounds went to McCullagh and Katsoulis. They stepped up their defense in the third and fourth quarters to hold NHP to a respective 12 and 10 points, but they had failed to neutralize McCullagh on the inside and Tomasini on the outside earlier in the game.
Who’s Next? The Gladiators finished the season with a 8-4 Conference A-1 record. Depending on the outcome of the Wantagh vs. Garden City game Monday, New Hyde Park will either be tied with Wantagh for third place or have sole possession of the spot going into the playoffs.
“This game gave us a boost for the first round of the playoffs,” said McCullagh, “and we have the capabilities to do well.”
Team 1 2 3 4 F
New Hyde Park 18 16 12 10 56
Jericho 4 10 11 6 31
NHP: McCullagh 16-6-22, Tomasini 6-0-9, Katsoulis 4-2-6, Melissa Mastoridis 4-0-4, Paola Quijada 4-0-4, Shelby Platia 4-0-4, Peveraro 0-2-2, Victoria Romano 0-2-2, Victoria Lofaro 2-0-2, Janelle Gibbs 0-1-1.
Three pointers: Tomasini